In July, I attended a 5-day Insight Yoga Retreat with Sarah and Ty Powers at Won Dharma Center in Claverack, NY. One of my favorite topics covered at the retreat was metta, or lovingkindness. Ty gave a few talks on lovingkindness and provided some metta phrases I had not heard before:
May I be free from fear and self-harm.
May I be happy as I am.
May I be at peace with whatever comes.
Ty introduced these phrases, and then expounded on each one on different days. He also suggested that we focus on one each day, and that we send the metta phrase to another person and then to ourselves any time we notice ourselves having thoughts (especially judging thoughts) about another person we encounter. I found this to be a lovely way to soften towards other people, and myself, at various points throughout the day, and this is something I have continued post-retreat when I remember to do it.
Having listened to many talks from Sarah on media and at prior retreats, it was nice to hear more from Ty at this retreat. Like Sarah, he is a very skilled teacher with a strong background of both practice and training.
May I be free from fear and self-harm
Regarding the first metta phrase he taught us, which was “May I/we/all beings be free from fear and self-harm,” Ty encouraged us to replant the phrase as needed throughout the day, and reminded us that our thoughts can often be a form of self-harm. This mindfulness phrase, he said, can serve as an antidote for unskillful thought. He also talked about how we so often feel a need to present ourselves a certain way, and how this phrase can help override our need to do this when it becomes a form of self-harm. For example, perhaps our foot has fallen asleep or developed a cramp during our sitting practice in the meditation hall; do we take care of ourselves appropriately and mindfully, or do we needlessly suffer because we want to look like a “good meditator?”
There is a large system of hiking trails on the grounds at Won Dharma. Maps of the trails are available at the visitor’s center. On the second afternoon, during a free period, I took a short hike that included a few of the trails. I enjoyed the scenery and the experience of being alone in a beautiful, natural setting. And I was also annoyed by swarms of little bugs, a need to pee, and a couple of times where I feared I was lost. I had the thought of what a lame hiker I am, and followed that with “may I be free from fear and self-harm.” Simple yet profound!
May I be happy as I am
In a later talk, Ty discussed the phrase “May I/you/all beings be happy as I am/you are/they are.” He talked about how this can be difficult because usually there are things about ourselves we are trying to improve, and we can often feel that we are not finished or are not okay. He provided another phrase he finds helpful with this: “We are whole, and we’re becoming.” He encouraged us to bow to ourselves when we realize we don’t know something and to have curiosity about growing and changing so that we can do so in a fun and relaxed way.
This talk reminded me of something one of my meditation teachers, Susan Piver of the Open Heart Project, often says about meditation being a break from self-improvement. She talks about our practice being sacred rather than another self-improvement method, and how our practice can be a respite and a time to be with ourselves exactly as we are. She says that the fruits of the practice come when we are open without having specific goals or expectations. I was also reminded of Richard Miller’s iRest Yoga Nidra teachings, since realizing that we are already whole, healed, and healthy is a central tenet of iRest.
May I be at peace with what comes
The third metta phrase, “May I/you/all beings be at peace with what comes,” relates to the truths of impermanence and uncertainty. It prompts us to relax and meet the current moment as it is, and to have patience. When we meet a situation we don’t like, we learn to see that “this is how it is,” and when we think it shouldn’t be the way it is, that is a call to practice. Not that we don’t take appropriate action to try to remedy circumstances, but rather not trying to resist or wish away current reality, and accepting that we will not always be able to change things to suit our liking.
Ty went on to talk about how when we experience aversion and resistance to something, it increases the power of the situation, feeling, or whatever the something is. Instead we can pause, soften, and say “yes, I can bring this onto the path.” If it is a feeling or thought or other aspect of ourselves that we are softening to, then we are working toward a state where no part of our self is exiled. We can then enter a dialog with the part of ourselves we are working with, get curious and ask questions, and create a supportive “internal family.” I will share more about internal family systems, another topic from the Insight Yoga Retreat, in a future post.